News, Top Story, Administration

BC Criticized for Sending University Police to Boston Protests

Boston College Police Department officers conducted crowd control at a protest in Franklin Park on Tuesday, according to a video posted to Twitter by WBUR reporter Cristela Guerra. The protest in the video was peaceful, and neither the protesters nor the officers in the video can be seen engaging in any violent acts.

Associate Vice President for University Communications Jack Dunn said BCPD sent three officers to the protest, which Dunn said occurred without incident.

The protest was one of many that have sprung up across the country in response to police brutality and racist violence. This particular bout of protests was triggered in part by the killing of George Floyd, who can be seen on video pleading for his life while a Minneapolis officer placed his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes, including for more than two minutes after Floyd became unresponsive.

BCPD declined requests to speak with Evans or any representatives of the department. BCPD issued a written statement to The Heights.

Evans said in the statement that BCPD was assisting the City of Boston and the Boston Police Department to “help the community.”

“BCPD has always helped residents of the City of Boston and its police along with other universities’ police departments with super bowl parades and major events in the city to keep the city safe for residents,” Evans said in the email. “We rely on each other everyday if something bad should happen. This is a public safety issue.”

Evans said the move by BCPD is not political, but rather about protecting the community.

“Our officers are on bikes assisting with traffic and providing great community policing like we do everyday on campus,” he said.

Dunn said in an email to The Heights that BCPD officers were joined by officers from other universities, including Boston University, Northeastern University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Harvard University. Dunn said that officers at BC and other local colleges have worked with BPD for years at events such as the Boston Marathon, parades, and demonstrations, and BPD helps out BCPD at BC events such as Commencement.

“The demonstration occurred without incident and was praised as a model of peaceful protest,” Dunn said in the email. “All of us at Boston College share in the outrage over the killing of innocent black men and women at the hands of police. However, that anger should not be cause for a campaign of misinformation.”

The video of BCPD officers at the protest sparked outrage from some on Twitter, including from Michael Osaghae, the 2019-20 UGBC president and BC ’20, who criticized the University for releasing a statement by University President Rev. William P. Leahy, S.J., condemning racism and sending officers to police the protests on the same day.

“We need answers and we need y’all to start defending black lives,” Osaghae tweeted at the University.

Leahy’s statement called the death of George Floyd “senseless” and acknowledged the anger around the country. Leahy invited the BC community to join him in praying for Floyd.

“We must condemn the racial prejudice and profound injustice leading to this latest shocking loss of a black person’s life in our country,” Leahy said in his statement. “Reflecting its Jesuit, Catholic heritage, Boston College insists that everyone should be treated with dignity, respect, and grace.”

BCPD derives its legal authority from a Massachusetts statute that gives BCPD officers the same police powers as the Newton, Boston, and state police. BCPD officers are also deputy sheriffs in Middlesex and Suffolk counties, giving them legal authority to operate off campus, according to the BCPD website.

In a statement sent to The Heights on behalf of the Undergraduate Government of Boston College, Jack Lewis, chief of staff for UGBC and MCAS ’21, declined to take a position at the moment on the presence of BCPD officers at the protest.

“The death of George Floyd was an abhorrent tragedy, and we believe that those police officers who were responsible for this action must be held accountable,” the statement reads. “As we are still in the midst of serious conversations with BC administrators, discussing these issues and the concerns of fellow students, we will, at this time, refrain from making a final statement regarding the BCPD’s assignment until we receive further information on this matter.” 

Lewis said to refer to Evans’ statement to The Heights, as well as a comment on the BC instagram page addressing someone who asked why BCPD was at the protests, as the reason behind this assignment.

“Boston College Police were present to assist Boston Police with the peaceful demonstration held at Franklin Park on Tuesday,” the comment from BC reads. “BCPD has had a decades-long mutual relationship with area police departments to assist with large gatherings, as evidenced by the Boston Marathon and other major events.”

The Young Democratic Socialists of Boston College released a statement on social media demanding that BCPD no longer work in collaboration with the BPD. The statement also calls on concerned people to contact administrators including Leahy and Evans. YDSA has called for months for Evans to be removed over the collaboration of BPD with Immigration and Customs Enforcement while Evans served as the Boston Police commissioner.

“Boston College cops should not be policing protests in support of Black lives,” the statement reads. “There can be no equivocation on this matter.”

Users on Twitter criticized BC, calling the University racist. Some criticized the University’s response to a 2014 die-in at St. Mary’s Hall in protest of police brutality, what protesters described as an inadequate response from the administration to police brutality, and BC’s free speech policies. The University condemned the protest and the decision to hold it in St. Mary’s, the private residence of the Jesuits, and told the protesters that they would be subject to possible disciplinary outcomes. Then-Vice President for Student Affairs Barbara Jones later released a letter saying that the potential sanctions would likely amount to a warning.

Students staged a “Silence is Still Violence” protest in 2017 after a series of racist events on campus, including the vandalism of Black Lives Matter signs and a racist Snapchat that spread around campus. Protesters criticized the University at the time for an inadequate response, with many students demanding a public condemnation of racism by Leahy, who did not issue a statement in response to the events.

In December 2018, Michael Sorkin, then a sophomore at BC, was arrested for destruction of property in one residence hall and racist vandalism in another. Sorkin defaced the residence hall with racist epithets such as “n—s are the plague,” and students called on Leahy to make a statement, but Leahy made no public comments. Sorkin accepted a plea deal in Middlesex County on hate crime and vandalism charges in October, and he is awaiting trial in Suffolk County on charges of property destruction and false activation of a fire alarm.

A previous version of this article contained an error incorrectly stating Dunn said Tufts University sent campus police to the Franklin Park protest. Dunn said Boston University, not Tufts University, sent officers to the protest.

June 5, 2020